Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat - M's Review

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat has been longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway medal 2013 and shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Children’s Book Award. This review has been written from a 'reading for leisure' perspective but consideration was given to some of the judging criteria set for the CILIP Carnegie medal.

To begin, the cover for this book is mesmerising – at least, it is to adults. Its dustjacket looks old and tatty with a tea cup stain on it. I keep picking it up and moving it around to look at it. Very big brownie points to the design and print team who have pulled this cover off. There are also lots of beautiful illustrations throughout the book.

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton
Storywise, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat is a wonderful tale that many parents and young children are sure to take great delight in sharing at bedtime (or other times: like maybe on a boat when they’re not lost at sea – joke). Equally, younger readers new to chapter books may enjoy it too. It’s a story about a boy and a bear in a boat. The bear is rowing the boy somewhere and the boy is trusting but equally a bit impatient to get there. The story is all about this little adventure that takes place in not-quite-the-middle-of-nowhere. You’ll find that a lot of ‘not much’ and also a lot of ‘much’ happens. The developing banter and camaraderie between the boy and the bear is especially delightful.

We don’t know the boy’s name. We don’t know the bear’s name. So the main characters could be anyone and children will either take great delight in this – or query it. But we do know the name of the boat. This is one of those books where even the least curious of readers and listeners are sure to ask questions.

The boy is an average boy, primary school age probably – maybe a bit younger. He’s a bit brave going on a journey by himself but he behaves as if this is something he normally does. Typically, he gets bored easily. Who wouldn’t after all that time on a boat? I liked him. The bear is like a cuddly grown-up who is calm and in charge, but maybe also just a little bit dipsy.I liked him too. I loved the little details that Dave Shelton provides throughout the story. The lunchboxes are wonderful but my favourite bits really are about the maps and the on-board entertainment. My least favourite chapter was the one with the sea monster. I don’t like monsters.

While the journey starts straight away, the story builds up slowly. The pleasure in the book is the slow pace, and the detail that this affords. Also, that bear is in no rush to get anywhere. There is a lot of dialogue but there is also a lot of description. There is a lot of attention to small details, the kinds of details that young children are very curious about. For me, a calm and tranquil mood was created – for most of the time (although I think some younger readers may get quite excitedly frenzied in some parts where there is...some action!).

Dave Shelton's A Boy and a Bear in a Boat left me feeling happy – and a little bit curious.
Publication details:
2012, David Fickling Books, Oxford, hardback
This copy:
Received for reviewing the Carnegie longlist from the publisher

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